A Visit to Thomas Carlyle’s House.


The attic windows of Carlyle’s house in 1857.

Last week I visited Thomas Carlyle’s house for the first time in 30 years. Here is an extract from my post ‘DUST/SILENCE/TIME’ where I briefly discuss Carlyle’s writing room.


Although he raged against the noise of the city, I wondered if Thomas Carlyle also wanted to deny time in his sound-proofed rooms at the top of his house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. He had a room built within another room to exclude street noises and the sound of the piano from the adjacent house. But, though apparently sealed from the outdoor world, the wind whistled across the skylight and the sound of the next-door neighbour’s macaw still found its way into his space. Maybe in order to create silence sealing a room is not enough (as Cage noted in his visit to the anechoic chamber). And, as Warhol’s solution [silence without duration] is impractical if not impossible – is easier said than done – it is necessary to impose the active ingredient of time in the form of dust.

On Thursday afternoon, the doors of the room were left open so sound drifted up the staircase and in through the attic window. The space created by building an inner skin to the room was being used as storage. An information text here explained that Carlyle was trying to insulate himself from the noise of the nearby Cremorne Pleasure Gardens as well as street noise. In the entry for Cremorne Gardens the London Encyclopaedia reports: ‘In 1855, during a pageant re-enacting the storming of a fort at Sebastopol, the stage collapsed beneath 500 bayonet-carrying soldiers’. Balloon flights were regular occurrences at the gardens and at least one ended in disaster when the Montgolfier Fire Balloon drifted and collided with the spire of a church in Sydney Street. The disused Lots Road Power Station now occupies the site of the pleasure gardens.


My recording made in the ‘sound-proof’ room is only quiet. I missed the passing helicopters.

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